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The economic recovery is booming, but Black women are still getting left behind

Juliana Kaplan,Madison Hoff   

The economic recovery is booming, but Black women are still getting left behind
  • The latest data release on jobs showed that February was a robust month for recovery.
  • The country added 678,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate fell — but not for Black women.

The economic recovery kept booming in February.

The latest jobs data release brought good economic news: The country added 678,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell from 4.0% to 3.8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Ninety percent of the jobs that were lost in March and April of 2020 have recovered," Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh told Insider.

But even as unemployment slid, and more jobs were added, not all workers benefited.

"With men rejoining the labor force in pretty significant numbers over the last month, that means that all of the net labor force participation losses over the pandemic are women's losses," Emily Martin, the vice president for education and workplace justice at the National Women's Law Center, told Insider. "I don't think that that can be a status quo that we are satisfied with."

As of February 2022, there were 1.1 million fewer women aged 20 and over in the labor force than two years ago in February 2020. At the same time, for men aged 20 and over, there were 513,000 more men in the labor force.

Black women saw their unemployment rate rise from 5.8% in January to 6.1% in February, while other groups saw their unemployment rates stay the same or fall.

The unemployment rates of Black men and Black women aged 20 and over stand higher than that of overall rates for men and women in this age cohort, as seen in the following chart:

"Even within the context of that strong jobs report, we still see the footprint of the she-cession and the particular impact that Black women have sustained through the pandemic," Martin said.

Particularly notable is that the number of Black women working or actively looking for work — what's called the labor force participation rate — dropped in February.

"It's one of the signs that Black women are not sharing in the strong recovery," Kathryn Zickuhr, labor market policy analyst at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told Insider.

It's difficult to pinpoint exact reasons why Black women left the labor force, although, as Martin notes, "there is structural racism built into employers' hiring decisions, and employers' layoff decisions — and that adds an extra set of hurdles that are showing up in these numbers." Walsh said he thinks that "some of it, outright, has to do with pay equity."

"Companies should recognize that and put pay equity in place for women, because more women will come into the workforce," he said.

A recent study by the UCLA Labor Center's Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity at Work (CARE at Work) surveyed nearly 2,000 Black workers in Southern California from May 2021 to July 2021. Of the workers who had lost their jobs during the pandemic, 68% said they were still looking for work as of that summer — and 45% who reported being discriminated against at work said they were laid-off or terminated.

"The thing around the recovery from COVID that always gets me, is like, we can recover," Déjà Thomas, the UCLA report's lead author and CARE at Work program manager, previously told Insider. "We can get back to where we were January 2020, but Black workers still weren't doing well."

Another pressure might be childcare constraints, an issue that's disproportionately fallen on women throughout the pandemic.

Zickuhr said that investing in care infrastructure and social infrastructure is one thing the US can do to help workers, particularly women.

"These are things that can make a big difference in supporting workers, supporting their families, helping workers — especially women — stay in the labor force, stay in jobs," Zickuhr said. "It also helps their families maintain economic security and economic stability during periods of crisis and shock."


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